Paralegals perform a variety of tasks depending on their area of practice
and level of experience, and may work in specific areas of law, such as litigation,
probate or real estate. They're not allowed to give legal advice -- that's
for lawyers only.
Paralegals always work under the supervision of a lawyer. They maintain
records, do legal research, interview clients, investigate facts, draft documents
and perform whatever other duties a lawyer might assign them in order to complete
a legal transaction.
They work in legal firms, legal services programs (as counselors or advocates),
corporate legal departments and in the civil service.
Jennifer Calhoun worked as a paralegal for years. Now, she is an instructor
in a legal assistant program. She says there's ample opportunity for change
in the field.
"If you've got something that you're interested in, you've got the opportunity
to pursue it. You have many avenues you can go down. There's family law, there's
corporate law, there's real estate law, [and] there's wills and estate administration
law. There's all sorts of things that you can go into. You don't have to stay
in one area," explains Calhoun.
Paralegals spend much of their time sitting in front of a computer or in
a law library. Reading and assimilating information quickly is a major plus
for this profession. Paralegals often work on tight deadlines, so stress levels
may be high.
Physical requirements may vary depending on the firm and its size, notes
the National Association for Legal Assistants. More and more, paralegals work
with computerized filing systems and computerized legal databases.
Arthur Greene is a member on the advisory board for the Legal Assistant
Management Association. He says legal assistants do more than sit at a desk.
There's often a little legwork involved in getting from one place to another
-- and fast!
"They do all kinds of things," says Greene. "In most firms where they are
well used, they operate a little bit like some of the young lawyers do. They
attend meetings, they do investigations. [The job] come in all different varieties!"
Overtime isn't unusual, as paperwork and legal documents must be prepared
to strict deadlines.
According to Greene, hours depend on the area of law you work in. "I think
for those that work in litigation and trial work...hours are long and tend
to be irregular. I think in probate or business law, or real estate law, they
tend to be more regular hours."
Paralegals must interact with people from all walks of life, and should
have excellent interpersonal skills. They also have to be thorough, neat and